Thursday, July 16, 2009

REVIEW: Points of Light II: The Sunrise Sea

Writing reviews to "sequels" is always difficult for me, especially if the follow-up product shares a lot in common with its predecessor. On the one hand, I could just point readers to my review of the original Points of Light and say, "It's just like this but with new settings." On the other, I could cover a lot of the same ground and use examples from the new product to make the same points as I did in the original. The second approach is particularly tempting in this case, because Points of Light II by Robert Conley and Dwayne Gillingham shares most of Points of Light's virtues without introducing (many) vices of its own.

Before elaborating on that point, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. Points of Light II is longer than the original, being 64 pages in length rather than 48 (with a corresponding increase in price to $15.99 from $12.99). Otherwise, the book is physically remarkably similar to its predecessor, including the artwork and the attractively minimalist cartography. The main difference I noted was the presence of what seemed like more mini-maps for settlements than was included in Points of Light, but it's possible I'm mistaken on this point. Regardless, if you liked the look and layout of the original, you will find nothing to complain about in this product.

As in the first book, Points of Light II offers four sandbox setting for use with any fantasy roleplaying game, although, again, it's clear that Dungeons & Dragons players are its target audience. Interestingly, Points of Light II, while still very stat-light, employs some D&D IV-specific terminology in describing monsters ("brute," "elite skirmisher," etc.) that I found both jarring and unncessary. Similarly, the overall power level of the new settings seems higher than that in the original, with a number of encounters being being at levels 20 or more -- another concession, I think, the advancement scheme of the new edition of D&D that was wholly absent in the initial release.

Points of Light II's four settings are all very well done, as you'd expect from its authors. If anything, they're all much more imaginative than those of its predecessor.
  • The Golden Shores: This is a kind of fantasy "age of colonization" setting, complete with valuable resources to exploit, a restive aboriginal population, and shadowy enemies. It's by far my favorite of the four settings.
  • Amacui: If "the Golden Shores" is a fantasy version of the colonization of North America, then Amacui is more like the conquest of South (or Central) America, complete with Aztec analogs, albeit ones in a much better position to defend themselves against outsiders.
  • The Misty Isles: This setting is an archipelago consisting of many islands that vary in terms of their inhabitants and challenges -- think The Isle of Dread spread over many islands.
  • Mazatl: This is the oddest of the four settings in my opinion: the volcano home of an evil god. It's a very portable setting, I think, but one that struck me as being much more limited in scope compared to the other three. Mazatl is really more of a locale than a setting, if that distinction makes sense.
As you can see, Points of Light II focuses more on exotic, far-off settings than did its predecessor. That's both its biggest selling point and its greatest potential pitfall. I think this product is more likely to appeal to experienced gamers looking for a change of pace than it is to new gamers or those new to the idea of sandbox play. That's a very small criticism, since there's a lot in these settings that can easily be transplanted elsewhere without much difficulty. Likewise, it's no crime to cater to experienced gamers, who are often just as in need of new ideas as their neophyte brethren.

Each setting in Points of Light II is longer and includes more keyed areas than its predecessor. Again, this needn't be a vice, since the descriptive text remains every bit as laconic and suggestive as in Points of Light. The mythology and background of the first book is carried over to this one, but it's generally thin enough that it can be easily discarded. Plus, each setting includes adaptation notes that point out how one might make changes to a setting so as to maintain its feel seamlessly. The notes are brief but then, as I noted, the settings are broad enough in conception that adaptation shouldn't take much effort in any case.

Points of Light II is thus a very good product. It's a little less "primal" than its predecessor, which focused on more iconic fantasy RPG campaign settings, but I have no doubt many will find this a selling point. There's a lot to like here and I hope we'll be seeing more work by Conley and Gilllingham in the future -- perhaps some smaller scale adventuring locales?

Presentation: 8 out of 10
Creativity: 8 out of 10
Utility: 7 out of 10

Buy This If: You're looking for some exotic settings for your next sandbox campaign.
Don't Buy This If: You have no interest in sandbox gaming or your settings tend toward familiar fantasy tropes.

5 comments:

  1. Dude! You're reading what I'm reading (the Night Shade reprints of Smith)! 8)

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  2. Thanks, James. I just saw this product other day and was left wondering. I have some holes to fill on my map so this might be the ideal filler.

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  3. I really want to get this one, though I did not get nº1 because it looks too vanilla for my tastes.

    Really looking foward to Amacui - as I South American I really want to see what Rob did here.

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  4. Thanks for the review!

    Yes there are twice as many mini-maps in this product as the previous one.

    Also the main maps have two more columns. And the last map is a full page instead the half page of the last one.

    Maybe on the next one I will figure out a outer planes setting that will get this to a 10 ;)

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  5. I like it, but I preferred the different time periods in POL1. Id have preferred the POL2 areas to be set during different phases of the colonisation of the new continent, eg from '1492' to 'Custer's Last Stand'.

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